By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Life of a runner.
Michael (Michael Douglas) is suffering, at the age of 32, a midlife malaise. He goes from one dead end job to another and his marriage is crumbling. He runs to relieve the stress and finds that he has a major passion for it. When he qualifies for the Olympics he is initially excited, but it’s short lived because his former coach (Lawrence Dane) is on hand to constantly remind him how he has a tendency to ‘choke’ at the last minute and can never win a race when the pressure is on, which begins to wear on him psychologically.
The theme of a middle aged man having a passion for something that isn’t exactly ‘practical’ and resisting the pressures from the rest of world that tries to get him to conform to something that is, is highly relatable. I also liked the side-story dealing with the psychological element, which plays a far stronger factor in sports and amongst athletes than one might think. However, the majority of the screen time is spent with Michael trying to reconcile with his wife Janet (Susan Anspach) making it seem more like a romance and seemingly added in as ‘filler’ because the filmmakers believed that the running theme wouldn’t be enough to carry it.
I also had a hard time understanding why the kids at high school, or at least his daughter’s friends, which gets played by Lesleh Donaldson in her film debut, would make fun of Michael simply because he was frequently seen around town running. I see joggers and runners every day and saw a lot of them back in the ‘70s too, so I don’t get why that would be a source of mockery and it seems like it was yet another manufactured dramatic element put in to give it more conflict. What’s even worse is when Michael finally qualifies for the Olympics then the kids do a full 180 degree turn and get excited about it and even run with him down the city streets, which gets corny to say the least.
Halfway in you realize this is just another variation of the Rocky formula and normally I would’ve found it annoying, but for some reason I actually got into it. I even liked the scene where he spots a giant cross standing on a hill and decides to run up the incline to reach it much like Rocky climbing the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and to some degree it’s invigorating although it would’ve been nice had it shown him standing next to the cross once the climb was achieved. The final segment that takes place during the climactic Olympic race even has a twist to it that I didn’t see coming and to a degree it’s interesting though pushing plausibility. I won’t give it away I’ll just say that he doesn’t win the race, but he doesn’t exactly lose it either.
Douglas did all of his own running and to prepare for the role he would run many miles a day; IMDB states that he ran 50 to 60 miles a day, which I found hard to believe, so we’ll just say it was ‘many’. Anspach is good as the sympathetic wife particularly when the character has a conflict of emotions and breaks out in tears. Eugene Levy appears with a full afro in a rare serious turn as Michael’s attorney. Lawrence Dane is okay as the hardened coach who dispenses a lot of ‘tough love’, but little else.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: November 2, 1979
Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes
Director: Steven Hilliard Stern
Available: DVD (Italian Import Region 0)